17 February 2019

Wilfrid Laurier: 100 Years



The great Wilfrid Laurier died one hundred years ago today. Our seventh prime minister, he held the office for more than fifteen consecutive years. Laurier led his party for over thirty-one years, and served in the House of Commons for 44 years, 10 months and 17 days until February 17, 1919 brought all that to an end. At age seventy-seven, his death shouldn't have come as a shock, but contemporary press suggests otherwise. Tribute was paid by George V, but my favourite comes from a commoner who remembered the widow Laurier. It was published in Right Honourable Sir Wilfrid Laurier: A Tribute (Ottawa: Modern Press, 1919).


WILFRID LAURIER

Elegy Written on the Day of Sir Wilfrid Laurier's Death
by Mr. T.A. Brown, Ottawa
     He'll pass no more, nor shall we backward glance
          To note again that loved, commanding form,
     Like some fine figure of chivalrous France
          Round which men rallied in old times of storm. 
     A Bayard, ever gallant in the fray;
          Lute voiced, a man of magic utterance rare,
     What was the spell, the secret of his sway—
          The noble life, the silver of his hair? 
     Unaging and majestic as the pine,
          The evergreen of youth within his soul,
     Tilting young-hearted with that soul ashine,
          He onward bore unto his purposed goal. 
     With her he loved through shadowed hours and gay.
          In rare companionship the sunset road
     He walked in such felicity; the way
          Seemed rose hung, and the years a lightsome load. 
     With malice unto none, e'en in defeat;
          With charity in triumph, he has stood,
     Broad gauge Canadian, after battle's heat,
          Speaking the language of wide brotherhood. 
     The inspiration of his service yet.
          The charity, the brotherhood he taught,
     Shall light our pathway though his sun be set,
          And may we build as nobly as he wrought. 
     New tasks begin, new duties, new resolves,
          For Canada, his land and ours, we take;
     And since such partings come as time evolves,
          His spirit watching, we new pledges make. 
     Though mute his lips, the seal of death thereon,
          While men remember how he loved this land,
     His voice will sound a trumpet leading on—
          Great Heart, adieu—bowed at thy bier we stand. 
*   *   * 
     Dear Lady, in the sadness of this hour
          For him we honor as our noblest son,
     If our affection and our love had power
          To save thee grief, we'd bear it, everyone.



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04 February 2019

Margaret Millar Simplified and Spoiled



The Listening Walls
Margaret Millar [abridged by George McMillin]
New York: Falcon, 1975


The Listening Walls
Collected Millar: The Master at Her Zenith
Margaret Millar
New York: Syndicate, 2016

I'm a great fan of Syndicate Books' seven-volume Collected Millar. Not only did it return all twenty-five of the author's novels to print – most unavailable for decades – it did so in attractive volumes and at affordable prices. The only criticism I have seems to be shared by pretty much everyone familiar with the set: the print is too darn small. My middle-aged eyes can manage, but given the choice I'll reach for an old mass-market paperback any day. This is why I was quick to splurge 25 cents on a Falcon edition of The Listening Walls spotted at a charity shop last month. In my haste, I didn't notice this small print on the cover:


There's irony for you. Or is it? Alanis Morissette has still got me confused.

Edited and abridged "for young people and adults who want to read books of mature content with greater ease and enjoyment," Falcon Books meant nothing to me. Interior copy informs that they were "especially recommended as supplemental readers in junior and senior high school courses;" happily, they weren't used in mine. If my 25¢ copy of The Listening Walls is anything to go by, the abridgements stripped much of what made their originals worth reading. Consider the opening paragraph to Margaret Millar's The Listening Walls:
From her resting place in the broom closet Consuela could hear the two American ladies in 404 arguing. The closet was as narrow as the road to heaven and smelled of furniture polish, chlorine, and of Consuela herself. But it was not physical discomfort that disturbed her siesta, it was the strain of trying to understand what the Americans were arguing about. Money? Love? What else was there, Consuela wondered, and wiped the sweat off her forehead and neck with one of the towels she was supposed to place in the bathrooms at exactly six o'clock.
Now, here is the Falcon abridged version:
From the broom closet, Consuela could hear the two American ladies arguing in Room 404. The closet was small and smelled of furniture polish and cleaning fluid, and of Consuela's own body. But it was not the tiny closet and its smells that disturbed her siesta – her afternoon nap. It was the argument she was hearing through the wall. She strained to hear what the Americans were arguing about. Was it money? Was it love? What else could it be? Console wondered about it and wiped the sweat off her forehead and neck with one of the clean towels she was supposed to put in the bathrooms.
Things are spelled out – "404" becomes "Room 404," "chlorine" becomes "cleaning fluid"  – and subtleties are missed. What spoils
 Consuela's siesta (not necessarily an "afternoon nap," says my OED) is not the sound of the two American ladies arguing, but that she can't quite make out what they are saying. Gone is the description of the closet, Consuela's "resting place," as being "as narrow as the road to heaven," and with it the first hint of her religious beliefs and their influence on the plot.

The two American ladies are friends Wilma Wyatt and Amy Kellogg. The pair have travelled from San Francisco to Mexico City on a girls' getaway. Poor Wilma has been having a particularly tough year that has included divorce (her second), the loss of both parents in a plane crash, and a bout of pneumonia. It's now September. Can it get much worse?

Yes, it can.

Wilma is unhappy with everything – herself most of all – and is itching to bicker and bully. Amy tries to make the best of it, all the while reminding herself that husband Rupert had warned the trip was a mistake. Gill, Amy's big brother, called her an imbecile. Things deteriorate further when Amy discovers that Wilma bought a handcrafted silver box engraved with Rupert's initials. Why would Wilma do that? And why would she hide the purchase? The fighting escalates and Wilma storms off to the hotel bar.

That evening, Wilma dies of a fall from their hotel room balcony.


The Listening Walls has less to do with Wilma's death, and whether or not it was murder, than it does the mystery of Amy's subsequent disappearance. Rupert gives Gill a letter from Amy in which she writes of her need to be alone for a while. Gill, who had already found things were "damned peculiar," hires a private detective, and Rupert starts making mistakes.

The Listening Walls shares The Master at Her Zenith, the third volume of the Collected Millar, with Vanish in an Instant, Wives and Lovers, Beast in View, and An Air That Kills. By far the weakest novel of the lot, its flaw lies with the nineteenth and penultimate chapter, in which one character explains his actions throughout the previous eighteen. Amounting to several dense pages – uncharacteristic of Millar – it reads like an information dump. This same scene in the abridgement is less irritating in that there is less to explain. The keen-eyed will have noticed that the Falcon opening paragraph quoted above is actually longer that the original; so, how did abridger George McMillin make the novel shorter? The answer is that he slashed dialogue to the bone, and cut entire scenes. In order to bridge the gaps, McMillin added some passages of his own. In fact, the passage quoted on the back cover entirely his own work:


I've hidden the first character's name because it misleads. The character is not a murderer and would never think to murder. The passage is just another example of McMillin's misunderstanding of the novel.

Much has been made of the novel's ending, beginning with the dust jacket on Gollancz's first UK edition:


Sort of spoils things, doesn't it?

Julian Symons liked the ending, as did I. Had it not been for publisher hype, I expect Anthony Lejeune would've liked it, too. Reviewing the novel in 1959 for the Times Literary Supplement, he writes:
Miss Millar knows how to make her story-line twist like a snake. It is not her fault that the publishers, in big letters on the jacket, promise "as smashing a last sentence as we can recall!" That promise is not fulfilled. The final twist is surprisingly unsurprising.
More recently, Jon Breen wrote in the 18 April 2005 Weekly Standard: "Millar brings off a trick that is rarely attempted and even more rarely accomplished: withholding the final surprise to the very last line of the novel."

Foreknowledge that the final line brings surprise ruins the ending... and I've done so here. Apologies.

George McMillin liked the last sentence enough to leave it untouched.

At four words, it could hardly be shorter.

Trivia: For a "textbook" publisher – their description, not mine – Falcon proved itself particularly inept. The author biography is incorrect in describing Millar's It's All in the Family as a mystery. Students are told that her husband is "known professionally as Ross MacDonald," and not Ross Macdonald.


Objects: A study in contrasts. The Falcon is a slim mass-market paperback numbering 141 pages; the Syndicate is a bulky trade format paperback of 560 pages. The latter includes an introduction by Ross Macdonald biographer Tom Nolan.

My Falcon copy was once the property of the Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute.


Access: The Listening Walls was first published in 1959 by Random House in the United States and Gollacz in the United Kingdom. Editions by Corgi (1961), Dell (1964 & 1967), Orion (1974), and International Polygonics (1986) followed. In 1980, Curley published a large print edition.


Used copies listed online range in price from US$1.60 (International Polygonics) to US$349.26 (Curley). At US$50.00, the copy to buy is a Random House first edition (with review slip) offered by a Florida bookseller.


The novel has enjoyed at least eleven translations: French (Les Murs écoutent), Spanish (Las paredes oyen), Danish (De lyttende vægge), Finnish (Seinillä on korvat), Swedish (De lyssnande väggarna), Norwegian (Piken som lyttet), German (Die lauschenden Wände), Italian (La scatola d'argento), Polish (Śmierć w hotelu), Japanese (耳をすます壁), and Korean (엿듣는 벽).

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30 January 2019

Sam Steele: Himself Not God



Major General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele KCMG CB MVO died one hundred years ago today. A man of great accomplishment, Steele's Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry begins by describing him as a "NWMP officer and army officer," then goes on to detail so much more, including his service in the Second Boar War and the Great War. In our family, Steele is remembered for his interactions with Edward Stewart Busby, my great-grandfather, who served as a customs inspector during the Yukon Gold Rush. A younger man, E.S. lived to see Louis St Laurent become prime minister, while Sam Steele fell victim to the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Much of what I know about Sam Steele comes from his unreliable 1914 memoir Forty Years in Canada, which I once helped usher back to print. Until now, I've ignored his verse – there was at least one poem – and so am taking advantage of this sad anniversary to present this, which Steele wrote in 1915, during the dark days of the Great War:

MYSELF NOT GOD
               "When Greek meets Greek" the battle's fair;
               Kaiser and I: gods! what a pair:
               For weapons we will choose — Hot Air,
                                     I need no God. 
               Bill may be there with shot and shell,
               His arms first may fair quite well,
               But, people, I can talk like Hell:
                                     I can by God. 
               That God created sun and rain
               In seven days, is told in vain,
               It took six weeks for me to train
                                    My men — by God. 
               At my command my men arise,
               Parade past me with right turned eyes,
               These warriors — mark you — symbolize
                                   Myself — not God. 
               When in Valcartier's latter days,
               My Troops assembled 'neath my gaze
               Thy merged each creed in one to praise
                                  Myself — not God. 
               In language of poetic flow
               I'll write my epitaph, you know,
               (That's if I condescend to go
                                 Beneath the sod)
               My tombstone will need a P.T.O.
                                 So help me God.

22 January 2019

The Dusty Bookcase: Ten Years, 100 Titles



The Dusty Bookcase turns ten today. How is that possible? What was meant to be a six-year journey through the obscure and forgotten titles in my library has turned into something of a career. Is "career" the right word? This blog doesn't pay the bills, but it has resulted in a book, a regular column in Canadian Notes & Queries, and the odd gig with other magazines. It's also responsible, in part, for my position as Series Editor of the Véhicule Press Ricochet Books imprint.

True to the plan, I pulled the plug on this blog the day after The Dusty Bookcase turned six... only to be coaxed back by friends. I was easily swayed. I've enjoyed my time here; The Dusty Bookcase has brought much more than work, and has never seemed like work.

Though I don't see an end to The Dusty Bookcase, posts will be less frequent this year. I owe my publisher two books – and, as they'll pay at least a few bills, I aim to deliver the first. Still, let's see if I can't make it through these:


For this tenth anniversary, I've put together a list of the one hundred books that have brought the most enjoyment on this journey. The very best feature, as do the very worst. And so, Ralph Allen's cutting satire The Chartered Libertine (praised by Northrop Frye) is followed by two of Sol Allen's gynaecologist novels, which are in turn followed by the paranoid delusions of lying, hate-filled bigot J.V. Andrew. What fun!

All are recommended reading. You can't go wrong.

Hey, wasn't blogging supposed to be dead by now?


All Else is Folly - Peregrine Acland (1929)
Love is a Long Shot - Ted Allan (1949)
For Maimie's Sake - Grant Allen (1886)
The Devil's Die - Grant Allen (1888)
What's Bred in the Bone - Grant Allen (1891)
Michael's Crag - Grant Allen (1893)
The British Barbarians - Grant Allen (1895)
Under Sealed Orders - Grant Allen (1896)
Hilda Wade - Grant Allen (1900)
The Chartered Libertine - Ralph Allen (1954)
Toronto Doctor - Sol Allen (1949)
The Gynecologist - Sol Allen (1965)
Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow - J.V. Andrew (1977)
Firebrand - Rosemary Aubert (1986)


Revenge! - Robert Barr (1896)
The Unchanging East - Robert Barr (1900)
The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont - Robert Barr (1912)
Similia Similibus - Ulric Barthe (1916)
Under the Hill - Aubrey Beardsley and John Glassco (1959)
The Pyx - John Buell (1959)
Four Days - John Buell (1962)
A Lot to Make Up For - John Buell (1990)

Mr. Ames Against Time - Philip Child (1949)
Murder Without Regret - E. Louise Cushing (1954)

Soft to the Touch - Clark W. Dailey (1949)
The Four Jameses - William Arthur Deacon (1927)
The Measure of a Man - Norman Duncan (1911)


"Cattle" - Edith Eaton (1923)
Marion - Winnifred Eaton (1916)
I Hate You to Death - Keith Edgar (1944)

The Midnight Queen - May Agnes Fleming (1863)
Victoria - May Agnes Fleming (1863)

Present Reckoning - Hugh Garner (1951)
The English Governess - John Glassco (1960)
Erres boréales - Armand Grenier (1944)
Everyday Children - Edith Lelean Groves (1932)

This Was Joanna - Danny Halperin (1949)
The Door Between - Danny Halperin (1950)
The Last Canadian - William C. Heine (1974)
Dale of the Mounted: Atlantic Assignment - Joe Holliday (1956)


Flee the Night in Anger - Louis Kaufman (1952)
No Tears for Goldie - Thomas P. Kelley (1950)
The Broken Trail - George W. Kerby (1909)
The Wild Olive - Basil King (1910)
The Abolishing of Death - Basil King (1919)
The Thread of Flame - Basil King (1920)
The Empty Sack - Basil King (1921)
The Happy Isles - Basil King (1923)

Dust Over the City - André Langevin (1953)
Orphan Street - André Langevin (1974)
Behind the Beyond - Stephen Leacock (1913)
The Hohenzollerns in America - Stephen Leacock (1919)
The Town Below - Roger Lemelin (1944)
The Plouffe Family - Roger Lemelin (1948)
In Quest of Splendour - Roger Lemelin (1953)
The Happy Hairdresser - Nicholas Loupos (1973)
Young Canada Boys With the S.O.S. on the Frontier -
Harold C. Lowrey (1918)


The Land of Afternoon - Madge Macbeth (1924)
Up the Hill and Over - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay (1917)
Blencarrow - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay (1926)
Fasting Friar - Edward McCourt (1963)
Shadow on the Hearth - Judith Merril (1950)
The Three Roads - Kenneth Millar (1948)
Wall of Eyes - Margaret Millar (1953)
The Iron Gates - Margaret Millar (1945)
Do Evil in Return - Margaret Millar (1950)
Rose's Last Summer - Margaret Millar (1952)
Vanish in an Instant - Margaret Millar (1952)
Wives and Lovers - Margaret Millar (1954)
Beast in View - Margaret Millar (1955)
An Air That Kills  - Margaret Millar (1957)
The Fiend - Margaret Millar (1964)
Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk - Maria Monk (1836)
Murder Over Dorval - David Montrose (1952)
The Body on Mount Royal - David Montrose (1953)
Gambling with Fire - David Montrose (1969)
Wreath for a Redhead - Brian Moore (1951)
Intent to Kill - Brian Moore (1956)
Murder in Majorca - Brian Moore (1957)


The Long November - James Benson Nablo (1946)

The Damned and the Destroyed - Kenneth Orvis (1962)

The Miracle Man - Frank L. Packard (1914)
Confessions of a Bank Swindler - Lucius A. Parmalee (1968)
The Canada Doctor - Clay Perry and John L.E. Pell (1933)
Adopted Derelicts - Bluebell S. Phillips (1957)

He Will Return - Helen Dickson Reynolds (1959)
A Stranger and Afraid - Marika Robert (1964)
Poems - Richard Rohmer (1980)
Death by Deficit - Richard Rohmer (1995)


Dark Passions Subdue - Douglas Sanderson (1952)
Hot Freeze - Douglas Sanderson (1954)
The Darker Traffic - Douglas Sanderson (1954)
Night of the Horns - Douglas Sanderson (1958)
Catch a Fallen Starlet - Douglas Sanderson (1960)
The Hidden Places - Bertrand W. Sinclair (1922)
I Lost It All in Montreal - Donna Steinberg (1983)
The Wine of Life - Arthur Stringer (1921)

For My Country - Jules Paul Tardivel (1895)

The Keys of My Prison - Frances Shelley Wees (1956)
Arming for Armageddon - John Wesley White (1983)

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